RANCHO CUCAMONGA, Calif. -- Matt Kemp took the next step toward returning to the Dodgers on Thursday night, getting five at-bats in his first Minor League rehab game with Class A Rancho Cucamonga.
Working on his timing at the plate after missing five weeks with a sprained left ankle, Kemp went 0-for-5 with a strikeout. He started as the designated hitter for the Quakes and batted second against Seattle's High Desert affiliate.
Kemp faced three pitchers and saw 21 pitches. He grounded out three times, including two double plays, struck out and lined out to center field in his final at-bat.
"I got more comfortable as the game went on," Kemp said. "I knew I wasn't going to come out feeling super good. But I hit some balls hard and that's all you can ask for."
Aside from running to first base, Kemp didn't get to test his sprained ankle. The real test will come on Friday, when Kemp plans to play seven innings in center field.
"Tomorrow will be a big test for me playing in center field," Kemp said. "We'll see how it goes."
Kemp likely will play a third rehab game with the Quakes on Saturday, which would put him on track to be activated by the Dodgers on Sunday, when rosters expand.
The sellout crowd at LoanMart Field gave Kemp a warm welcome each time he came to the plate. They stayed late into the night, waiting outside the clubhouse to snap photographs and ask for autographs from arguably the most popular player on the Dodgers.
"It felt good to be out there and hear the fans, there were a lot of Dodgers fans out here," Kemp said. "It's good to get back out there and be playing baseball again."
Kemp hit three balls hard in his five at-bats.
He grounded out sharply to second in the first inning against High Desert starter Stephen Landazuri, one-hopping a 93 mph fastball to second baseman Anthony Phillips, who made a nice play with the glove. Kemp again grounded out sharply to second in his next at-bat. He scorched a line drive to center in his final at-bat, though his best swing of the night still resulted in an out.
Kemp struck out on six pitches in his third at-bat. He swung and missed three times on breaking balls and hit another foul. Facing sidearm reliever Grady Wood in his fourth at-bat, Kemp worked a full count before grounding out to third.
On the disabled list for a third time this season after spraining his ankle in an awkward slide at the plate on July 21, Kemp has been limited to 62 games with the Dodgers this season -- on pace for the fewest since his rookie season in 2006 -- hitting .263 with five home runs, 12 doubles and 27 RBIs. Kemp has already missed 71 games, while also spending time on the disabled list with a strained right hamstring and inflammation in the acromioclavicular (AC) joint in his surgically repaired left shoulder.
Austin Laymance is an associate reporter for MLB.com.